Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree.”
- Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
The sultry climate in tropical countries is conducive to specific species of trees that thrive well in humidity.
The Bicol Region, Philippines (with no pronounced “dry” or “wet” season), is home to plants and trees amorous to the humid environment. Unique in terms of physical form, structure and behavior, these botanical specimens naturally react to climatic changes in their home environment.
Among such indigenous trees that continue to fascinate me are the Talisay (Terminalia catappa L.) and the Kapok (Ceiba pentandra).
The talisay tree is also known as the ‘shade tree’.
It is distinct because its branches grow and spread horizontally, almost parallel to the ground.
The older the tree gets, the more its foliage spreads, providing shade to people during the hot ‘summer’ months, March to May. The species loses its leaves twice a year in most areas, with a brilliant red-and-yellow display of leaf colour before falling to the ground; this helps the tree tolerate 1 or 2 annual dry seasons.
The kapok tree is also known as the ‘silk-cotton tree’.
It is also distinct because it grows many branches of thick foliage; with slender, pointed green leaves during the “wet” or rainy months, July to December. During the summer months of February to May (as the tree bears fruits), all its leaves fall to the ground. What remains with the branches are the green fruits, cigar-shaped pods that turn to brown as they mature. When fully matured or ripe, the fruit pods crack open and a cotton-like, fibery soft white mass appears; then the pods fall to the ground. This cottony, silky soft, fluffy, fine fibers are used as stuffing material for pillows, cushions, mattresses, insulation and upholstery.
I took the above photograph of the leafy Talisay tree on a day of clear blue sky, just as the leaves were changing from green to yellow, to red then to brown. The “shifting-shade” characteristic of the Talisay Tree gives an “autumn-like feel” to our tropical country in the summer months, when the talisay leaves gradually turn brown before they fall.
I took the above photograph of the leafless Kapok tree on a rainy day of overcast gray sky, when the leaves have fallen and what remains at the branches are the ripening fruits or pods. The “shifting” nature of the Kapok Tree gives a “winter-like feel” to our tropical country during the hot summer months when the kapok tree is devoid of leaves.
of these two species of trees
… the color spectrum
The Talisay tree is pagoda-shaped, with a spreading crown. It reaches up to 15 to 25 meters in height, and the trunk grows as big as 1 to 1.5 meters in diameter. It has gray brown bark and leathery dark green leaves that turn red or yellow before they fall. It has a wide variety of uses:
Food: The fruit kernel may be eaten raw and roasted; tastes like almonds. The leaves may be used as feeds for silkworms and other animal feeds; also used in aquariums by breeders of tropical aquarium fishes; their antiseptic effects help to keep the fish healthy.
Medicine: Parts of the tree, such as the leaves and fruit, are astringent. The red leaves act as a vermifuge, while the sap of young leaves, cooked with oil from the kernel, may be used to treat leprosy. Leaves may be rubbed on breasts to cure pain or, when heated, may be applied to numb parts of the body. They may be also be used as a dressing for swollen rheumatic joints. The young leaves are also used to cure headaches and colic. Leaves, bark and fruit are used to treat yaws. The bark and root bark are useful for bilious fever, diarrhoea, thrush, and as a remedy for sores and abscesses.
Construction: The tree provides a red, good-quality, elastic, cross-grained timber that seasons well and works easily. Strong and pliable, talisay wood is used for the construction of buildings, boats, bridges, floors, boxes, crates, planks, carts, wheelbarrows, barrels and water troughs. Talisay resin may be used for gum.
The Kapok tree grows to 60–70 meters tall and has a very substantial trunk up to 3 meters in diameter with buttresses. The trunk and many of the larger branches are often (but not always) crowded with very large, robust simple thorns. The leaves are compound of 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20-centimeters and palm like. Adult trees produce several hundred 15-centimeters seed pods. The pods contain seeds surrounded by a fluffy, yellowish fibre that is a mix of lignin and cellulose. Known as Ceiba in Ecuador and Arbol de Lupuna in Peru, the Ceiba Pentandra belongs to the balsa family tree.
Uses: The majestic kapok tree has many uses for humans. Natives of the Amazon rainforest have many uses for the kapok tree, even for medicinal purposes. Its seeds, leaves, bark and resin is used to treat fever, asthma, disentery and kidney disease. It has long been considered sacred for indigenous people of the Americas, including Mayan culture. They used the kapok floss to wrap around their poison (curare) darts to be blown out of their blowguns.
Its wood is lightweight and porous; good for making carvings, coffins and dugout canoes. The silky fibers that disperse the seeds are too small for weaving but make great stuffing for bedding and life preservers. Soaps can be made from the oils in the seeds. Other parts of the giant tree are used as medicines.
The kapok is also a commercial tree, most heavily cultivated in the rainforests of Asia, notably in Java (hence its nicknames), Philippines, Malaysia, Hainan Island in China as well as in South America.